Fashion’s Comeback Kid Dresses Spike Lee’s Wife for Oscar Night, Leaves a Lasting Impression

How Bibhu Mohapatra Rediscovered His Mojo

BY // 03.07.19

NEW YORK — Before Bibhu Mohapatra launched his namesake label a decade ago after a successful stint as design director at J Mendel, he visited with the influential Vogue editor Anna Wintour who told him to “give the customer what they are asking for, which is not another pair of beautifully tailored black pants, but special pieces for important events.”

His 10th anniversary collection, unveiled at New York Fashion Week, did just that.

After some setbacks — his company declared bankrupcty in 2017 before restructuring with new investors — Mohapatra has come roaring back by concentrating on glamorous evening wear for an upscale clientele.

In his return to fashion week after taking last season off, he dotted his new collection with gowns featuring hand-embroidered crystal beading, feather trim, lace appliques, satin bows, and other distinctive touches. Some gowns are draped with satin petals at the shoulders or sleeves and a sparkling pink crystal embroidered tulle dress is inspired by the drawings of Mohapatra’s partner, artist Bobby Beard. A couple of glittery ball gowns with big skirts contrast with a body-hugging lace cocktail dress with an asymmetrical hem.

For someone who has always been a bit reticent to tout himself, Mohapatra surprised some fashion observers by adding fabric emblazoned with  “Bibhu”  as trim to some evening dresses or as as a bolo tie for a cotton blouse. similar to what Chanel has done in the past. But this time around, he seems more willing to take center stage.

“It’s a good feeling to look back and identify the things I’ve learned from and the mistakes I’ve made,” he says. “We have new partners in India and our sales team is now based out of Paris.

“Now it’s about staying connected with our consumer and telling an authentic story about the product.”

Several of the looks from the new collection went directly from the runway to the red carpet. Spike Lee’s wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, wore a Mohapatra-designed gown with a black velvet bustier and yellow skirt featuring a high-low hemline to the Oscars (it provided a nice contrast with Spike Lee’s purple suit) while author and activist Janet Mock drew admiring notices in a melted onyx and copper-striped sequined strapless dress with an asymmetrical hem to the Writers Guild Awards.

At the end of the runway show, Mohapatra, in a white kurta and an ecru vest of his native India, felt a bit like a star himself. His eyes welled with tears as the crowd roared in tribute to his comeback, and he wordlessly expressed his thanks with the customary Hindu greeting of namaste, bowing his head slightly, with his hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upward.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - On the Runway Fall 2019
The Residences at The Allen
Hotel-Inspired Living

Featured Properties